TOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL: Editorial: Diverting allocations for children’s programs into General Fund dangerous

January 19, 2016

A state budget proposal advocated last week by Gov. Sam Brownback raises questions regarding efficiency, and whether funds set aside for Kansas children’s programs can be siphoned for other purposes.

As proposed, the governor’s budget would shift the entire Children’s Initiative Fund and make it part of the State General Fund in 2017.

With Kansas facing a budget shortfall this fiscal year that could balloon into a much larger shortfall next year, it is only natural to be skeptical as to whether the Children’s Initiative Fund could be used to address other means if it is swept into the state’s general fund.

Accountability, transparency and efficiency are key factors.

Will funds earmarked for early childhood education be properly channeled?

Findings that were part of a recent statewide efficiency review authorized by lawmakers noted that CIF-funded programs, under the watch of the Children’s Cabinet, were being held to a higher standard for evaluation than many state programs.

The study did stipulate that five CIF-funded programs received consistently low Evidence Based Practice scores and needed to be reviewed. However, the report recommended the Children’s Cabinet be responsible for identifying priorities among agencies serving children.

Based on those findings, it would be unreasonable to shift the entire CIF into the general fund. Particularly when there is reason to be leery regarding funding intentions, considering reserves within the Kansas Department of Transportation have been targeted for appropriation elsewhere.

A special endowment designed to provide stable long-term support for the Children’s Initiative Fund has already been raided frequently. From 2001 through 2015, about $180 million was used from the endowment to address budget shortfalls as funds were funneled into the general fund.

Even if intentions are good for coordinating early childhood programs entirely through the Kansas State Department of Education, future decisions regarding appropriations through the general fund could change and wouldn’t be subject to the department’s discretion.

The prudent move is to keep the CIF intact, along with the Children’s Cabinet, which is cognizant of funding and has stipulated strong standards for CIF-funded programs.

Consider too the recipients of this funding. They represent the future of Kansas. They are our children.

Too much uncertainty arises when programs designed for the well-being of Kansas children are folded into a depleted state general fund.

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